Otter-spotting with Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

© Luke Massey/2020VISION

Whether it’s a glimpse of water-webbed whiskers, a lithe body porpoising in play or the tip of a ruddering tail, the sight of a shy otter is one of the most rewarding wildlife experiences in the UK.

Whether it’s a glimpse of water-webbed whiskers, a lithe body porpoising in play or the tip of a ruddering tail, the sight of a shy otter is one of the most rewarding wildlife experiences in the UK.

Pushed to the brink by hunting, habitat destruction and pesticides, otters almost disappeared from rivers and waterways in England, surviving in small numbers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Thankfully, after huge efforts to improve water quality and the banning of chemicals such as DDT, otter numbers are increasing across the UK and the odds of spotting one are vastly improved. They are a flagship species of our wetlands and if you see an otter about, you know that the local ecosystem is relatively healthy.

Otter in a river

© Luke Massey/2020VISION

Our Reserves Officer, Rachel, explains the key signs that otters are out and about on rivers near you:

Otter runs – as you walk along the river’s edge, look out for trampled vegetation, and a circular gap in the reeds where otters slip seamlessly through into the water.

Spraint – otters often leave smelly spraint on tree roots, riverside rocks and under bridges to mark their territory. Look closely and you’ll be able to see what’s been on the menu, perhaps fish bones, frog bones or feathers. Bizarrely, otter spraint has a rather pleasant smell, reminiscent of Jasmine tea!

Footprints – otter footprints are very distinctive. Look out for two inch wide, five-toed, webbed footprints in soft mud.

Sightings – if you’re really lucky, you might get to see one yourself. Otters are fast, agile swimmers and can be difficult to identify, but for the best chance of seeing one watch along the edge of reedbeds where they often hunt. Look out for a mammal about a metre long, swimming very low in the water with only its head showing. It’ll often dive for fish, leaving a trail of bubbles as it goes.

Good luck with your otter spotting! Find out more about these secretive swimmers here: www.hiwwt.org.uk/wildlife-explorer